By Gabrielle. Owen’s sweet letter board series via Emily’s Instagram.

Infertility, an early delivery, and a husband more than 24-hours away is just the beginning of Emily’s story. Oh! And there’s also a second delivery much different than the first. Come see. It’s a really good one.

Starting my family was easy. My husband Nick and I met in high school and became a pair in college. Inseparable almost immediately, we had an effortless romance from the get-go and were married in 2009 on the shores of Lake Tahoe close to our hometown. Like I said, it was easy; we were a family just like that.

Baby-making on the other hand, did not come easily.

We decided to start trying for a baby about a year after we were married. I remember the feeling of hope I had in that first month of trying, and I remember the feeling of disappointment that followed. The hope would return each month, but its intensity tapered until nothing remained but desperation. The disappointment climbed, peaked and eventually turned to numbness.

After one year of ovulation tracking and timed intercourse, my gynecologist ordered lots of tests and referred us to a reproductive endocrinologist. We both started weekly acupuncture and an herbal regimen while we prepped for fertility treatments. Four rounds of Intrauterine Insemination ended in heartache and exhaustion and left us with a feeling of defeat. I felt like my young and supposedly healthy body was betraying me. We questioned whether more intervention was the right choice. Were we messing with nature? What if we weren’t meant to be parents?

More sweetness, straight ahead!


Food Insecurity in America

August 24, 2016


By Gabrielle. Photos by Kristen Loken for Design Mom. This post is brought to you by Outshine®.

[ UPDATE: You can watch my Facebook Live interview on this topic here. ]

Fact: 1 in 7 Americans struggles to get enough to eat. And further, food insecurity exists in virtually every community in the United States.

Reading about hunger statistics in America is always a punch to the gut. I live in California which grows 1/3 of America’s vegetables, and 2/3 of the country’s fruit, and sometimes, as I’m walking around the city, or running errands in the suburbs, I’m struck by the abundance I see. Farmer’s markets and grocery stores piled high with good, healthy food. All that abundance almost makes it hard to imagine that those hunger numbers are real. But they are indeed real.

8.21.16_DesignMom-1021 8.21.16_DesignMom-1003

And the profile of a family who struggles with hunger in America is different than what you might think. These are people who have jobs and are seeking education, but who also struggle with medical hardships and low-wages. They sometimes have to choose between buying food for their family and paying for transportation to get to their job, or choose between buying food and medicine. Sometimes they have to buy the cheapest, nutrition-lacking options, just to have enough food to feed their family (and that poor quality food can cause or exacerbate health problems.)

They are your neighbors. They are senior citizens in your community that you say hello to as you go about your day. They are kids at your school.

8.21.16_DesignMom-1018 8.21.16_DesignMom-1112 8.21.16_DesignMom-1145

Summer is especially hard on kids in need (or kids who struggle with hunger), because without a regular school schedule, they don’t have access to daily school meals — free or reduced breakfasts or lunches. And there are issues of food deserts too — whole neighborhoods that don’t have real access to fresh, healthy produce.

8.21.16_DesignMom-1072 8.21.16_DesignMom-1053

In happier news, there are good people and good programs working to combat hunger in this country. Have you ever heard of Feeding America? Their nationwide network of food banks is leading the fight against hunger in communities nationwide. (You can learn more about hunger and Feeding America programs in this video.)

And this month, to support Feeding America programs, Outshine is donating 1 million pounds of fresh produce!

8.21.16_DesignMom-1103 8.21.16_DesignMom-1045

Today, I’m visiting the Outshine office in Berkeley and I’ll be interviewing a member of their team about this partnership. You can watch the video on the Design Mom Facebook page. We’ll be going live at 11:00 in the morning (that’s California time, or 2:00 PM on the East Coast). The interview will be live, but you can also view the recording after the fact on the same page. I hope you’ll come and join the conversation! [ UPDATE: You can watch the interview here. It was such a good conversation! Let me know if you get a chance to watch it. (And you can also get a glimpse of my hair which hasn't been cut since the beginning of the summer. I'm dying for cut! My appointment is this Friday. Hah!) ]

Tell me, Friends, have you ever had the chance to learn about hunger in America? Do you feel like hunger is something you see in your community, or does it seem to be a hidden problem where you live?


gabby stanley easter bonnet

By Gabrielle.

This is me. Age two and three quarters. Eyes closed and a big grin. I’m wearing a new dress and a bonnet for Easter. Clearly I am looking and feeling fabulous! As you might guess, this will become my favorite dress, and a couple months after this picture was taken, I’ll wear it on my 3rd birthday too. In fact, this dress shows up quite a bit in my baby book. This photo was taken in my backyard on Gibson Street in Riverside, California (did I tell I was born in California and spent my first 5 years there?). My first Easter bonnet. Such a sweet little milestone.

Why am I sharing this memory? So I can highlight the fact that some families in developing countries unfortunately don’t get to experience this sort of milestone, because children lack access to life-saving vaccines. In fact, one child dies every 20 seconds from a disease that could be prevented with a vaccine, many of them before age five. Totally preventable deaths. Easily preventable deaths. Which absolutely breaks my heart to think about. And it’s the reason I’m participating in Blogust.

What is Blogust? It’s a month-long digital dialogue, bringing together online writers, photo and video bloggers and Shot@Life Champions to change the world through inspirational imagery and storytelling. This year marks the fifth year of Blogust helping kids around the world reach their fifth birthday thanks to the power of global vaccines.

The Blogust 2016 digital relay participants will be sharing the story behind #TBT baby photos or videos of themselves, their kid(s) or a side-by- side comparison at important milestones — from first steps or first smile to fifth birthday.

Every parent everywhere should be able to experience these milestones, which is why every like, comment and social media share their posts receive (up to 30,000 throughout the month of August 2016) will trigger a donation by MAM to help provide a vaccine for a child in need around the world.

So I have a favor to ask: Will you please comment on this post? Every comment equals a donated vaccine to a child in need. So awesome! What should you comment? Whatever you like. How about a memory from your first five years, or what it was like to watch your kids hit a milestone, or even something simple like “I heart keeping children healthy!”

I can’t wait to read your comments. Let’s save some lives!

P.S. — If you’re not much for commenting, you could instead share this post on Twitter or Facebook with the #blogust hashtag. Any like, share or comment works! Also, you can find links to all the Blogust posts here.


By Gabrielle.

While I devoured Sara’s words, I underlined a few poignant lines to remember forever. She’s a psychologist! Of course! Of course she would possess all the answers to life’s — and parenting’s — burning questions.

But here’s what I enjoyed so much about Sara: She’s not afraid to admit she doesn’t have all the answers. She watches people she thinks are wise. She asks questions. And she says things like “I don’t know the answer to that; I’ve never been the parent of a six year old before.” I love it all.

So please come share in this goodness, will you? It’s so lovely to have Sara — and her fabulous hot pink dining room chairs! — here with us today. Welcome, Sara.

We live in a historic neighborhood in Wooster Ohio, two blocks over from the College of Wooster. Our street is lined with hundred year-old trees and joined by a red brick road. Growing up, I lived on a brick road in another town and have fond memories of hot sticky summers that began with bare feet on warm pavement and ended enjoying fireflies and crickets through the screens. I wanted the same for my future kids.

When we moved here for my job as a psychologist, I spent my lunch break canvasing this neighborhood for a For Sale sign. I loved that all of the houses were unique and when I spotted a sign in the yard, I made an appointment for a viewing that day.

More shots of bold color, just ahead!


The Act of Birth

August 22, 2016

uterus poster

By Gabrielle. Uterus print by Mathilde Cinq Mars.

I read an essay, called Monstrous Births, over the weekend and can’t stop thinking about it. The author, Sarah Blackwood, talks about the history of child birth and how it has often been moralized — like Eve being cursed and told that childbirth would be difficult because of her actions. Ms. Blackwood compares that with the modern ways we moralize birth — putting pressure on women to have a natural birth or even talking about birth as an empowering act. The author then describes the births of her own 2 children, which were very difficult, and suggests that maybe we should think of birth as an amoral (not immoral, but amoral) action instead of a moral one.

The essay really resonated with me. Unlike the author, I’ve experienced child birth six different times, and yet all of them fell in the “typical birth experience” range and didn’t require much intervention. For me the resonation came from the description of birth as amoral. I totally related to that idea, though I’ve never thought to use that word.

Child birth didn’t feel empowering to me. It didn’t feel un-empowering either. Instead it felt to me mostly like a biological process — a difficult one, but one that my body was designed to go through. I didn’t necessarily feel pride at what my body did because I didn’t feel like I could even take credit for it. (In fact, if I did take credit for it, then would that mean that women who couldn’t experience the relatively easy kind of births I had should feel the opposite of pride? Shame or guilt?) I remember thinking that in theory even if I had been passed out, my body could have birthed the baby. So why would I be proud of something that could happen when I wasn’t even aware of it?

Now I say all that, but I completely understand that other women experience birth, and think about birth, very differently than I did. I don’t doubt for a minute that there are women who feel very empowered by birth. I don’t doubt this, because I know many of these women and absolutely trust the experiences they’ve had. I simply think this is one of those cases where people are different and experience things in different ways. And of course, we all use different narratives to help our brains understand the world.

In the essay, the author mentions that sometimes we dismiss the hardships of childbirth and say something like, “Well, as long as the baby is healthy.” But she suggests that is actually a really misogynistic thing to say. I’d never thought of it that way, but I see her point. Why would the baby always have more value than the woman giving birth (especially considering some of the women giving birth are practically children themselves)?

What about you? How do you feel about thinking of birth as an amoral action, as more of a biological process than a moral one? Did you feel empowered by birth? Did you feel pressured to have a certain kind of birth (natural, home, water, epidural)? Or certain kind of birth experience (empowering, spiritual, wholesome, calm, dramatic)? For anyone who is expecting at the moment, are you looking forward to the birth experience, or dreading it? If you get a chance to read the essay, I would love to discuss this topic with you.

P.S. — I’m well aware that talking about child birth can bring out the judgey-ness in anyone. So I ask you now to please refrain from telling someone else how they should experience birth. Instead, feel free to share your own experiences and how you think about them.


A Few Things

August 19, 2016

gabrielle benjamin blair

By Gabrielle. Photo by Ralph Blair.

Hello, Friends! How are you? I am writing from Paris. We fly to Oakland first thing tomorrow morning (with a short layover in Oslo, Norway on the way). The bags are packed, the souvenirs are purchased, our summer in France is really coming to an end. I can hardly believe it.

Something fun: today is our 21st wedding anniversary — and we’re feeling so lucky that we get to spend it in Paris! I was newly 21 when I married, so I’ve officially been married for half of my life. So strange to think about. Happily, I can easily say that marrying Ben Blair was the best decision of my life. No doubt about it!

Our weekend plans consist of 3 things: fly home, deal with jet lag, and make sure we’re ready for the first day of school on Monday. How about you? Anything you’re excited about?

I’m off to spend our last evening in France, but before I go, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share:

- Such a compelling interview. Consider the kitchen-less home. Thanks, Heidi.

- For back to school season, an NPR program about discipline in schools. What’s actually working?

- Please tell me you’re reading R. Eric Thomas’ olympic reports on Elle. Belly laughs for days.

- Also olympics related, I love Fu Yaunhui! She’s the Chinese swimmer who is breaking taboos right and left.

- My sister Jordan has been sharing posts about her amazing new studio. Here’s the craft area. I’m obsessed with the custom pegboard.

- This story is a good one. You could tell me it was completely made up and I wouldn’t even care.

- I behind on the news, and still learning more about what’s happening with the flooding in Louisiana, but I saw this article with helpful links.

- Anyone up for booking a vacation to Greece? Let’s go! (NYT)

- A fascinating study about white social media users and posts about race.

- “Is it really that hard, being a First World woman?” Powerful writing.

- Earthworms could be the new superfood.

- Related, teff could be the new super grain.

- 91-year-old Flossie Lewis says, “Getting old is a state of mind.”

I hope you have a wonderful weekend. I’ll meet you back here on Monday. I miss you already.



By Gabrielle.

Nora makes me miss New York even more than I already do! A born and bred Queens gal, her love for her city is contagious. I mean, who wouldn’t want to live on Sesame Street?

I can’t wait to follow her around her jam-packed day. Let’s do this, Nora!

Let’s spend the day with Nora!


Random Thoughts

August 17, 2016


Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Welcome to August’s installment of my random thoughts. Also, Hello from Paris! Feel free to share your own random thoughts in the comments.

- Today we left Normandy. It was a teary goodbye. I think it might be my favorite place ever. We are spending a few days in Paris before we catch our flight home on Saturday morning. Except for me, Betty & June, no one else in our family has been to Paris this summer, so everyone is excited to get a little time here. We’ll do some school shopping, see a museum or two, and watch the Eiffel Tower sparkle at night. I asked each kid to decide what their top priorities are for our few days here, and we’re working hard to see how many we can accommodate.

My pick is to visit Les Puces, the famed Paris Flea Market — which I’ve never done! But if I understand correctly it’s only held on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, and we leave early Saturday, which means we’ll miss it. Bummer! Have you ever been?

- School starts on Monday. Which seems almost unfathomable to me because this summer has gone so fast. But happily, we have lots of new school experiences to look forward to. Maude is starting her senior year, Olive is starting high school, Oscar is starting middle school. And Betty and June will return to our elementary school as 5th and 1st graders. (And you can bet we’ve picked up a bunch of adorable French school supplies to put in their back packs.)

- As for Ralph, he’s also got a big new experience happening. Ralph is heading to Bogota, Colombia on a mission! He leaves in about 3 weeks. As you can imagine, he’s super excited. He can’t wait to learn Spanish and he’s already falling in love with Colombia — mostly because he’s reading One Hundred Years of Solitude. (Such an amazing book! Have you read anything by Gabriel Garcia Marquez?)

When we get back to The States, we’ll be in serious mission prep mode, including a wisdom teeth appointment and tackling the packing list. Ralph will be giving a talk at church — it’s a missionary tradition — on Sunday the 11th, a couple of days before he heads out. (To our friends in the Bay Area, you are all invited! I’ll share details on Facebook.)

- Next week we have two birthdays. Olive on the 25th and Ralph on the 26th. We’re guessing that re-entry, and the new school year, may leave us feeling overwhelmed next week, so we’ll be keeping the celebrations simple, and pushing back friend gatherings by a week or two. Have you ever hosted a delayed birthday party?

- Remember the Treehouse master bedroom and bathroom renovation that has been happening while we’re in France? Well, it’s not all the way done yet, but we’re down to the finishing surfaces. So that’s awesome! As awesome as it is, I realize it still means we’re coming home to a not-wholly-useable house. Not ideal, but what can you do? These things happen.

I’m super excited to see the new spaces in person, and I’m over-the-moon-grateful that most of the work — and all the really dusty stuff — is already done. Woo hoo! Of course, I’ll be sharing lots of updates once I’m there and can take some photos.

- Related, we’ll be coming home to a little more added chaos, because it turns out our washing machine developed a leak while we’ve been gone, warping the wood floors it sits on. Dang! The washing machine and dryer came with the house, and they were already old when we moved in, so we knew they would need to be replaced eventually. And it looks like eventually has turned into now. : ) Has anyone reading researched washer and dryer sets recently? Is Consumer Reports the way to go? I’m thinking back, and I can’t remember the last time we had to buy a set. I welcome any and all advice about shopping for a new pair. Do you love your washer and dryer?

- Over the last couple of weeks, I was surprised to realize that I was slowing down and posting less on social media. I was thinking about why that might be and I’m not quite sure. But I think it’s something about this particular summer. It’s been really wonderful. Incredible and magical in so many ways, with a delicious concentrated dose of family time. There were dinner parties and old friends and gorgeous views and so many adventures, and yet I’m feeling hesitant about sharing it. It’s like I find myself almost hoarding the summer, or protecting it and wanting to keep it all for myself. Does that even make sense?

Maybe I’ll feel differently in a few weeks and write all about it. Or maybe I’ll end up just keeping some of these memories in my head. We’ll see. Have any of you ever felt like that?

- We’ve got a few big weeks ahead of us and I can feel myself mentally preparing. As I’ve mentioned, I really enjoy a full schedule, but I can always tell I’ve overdone it when I find myself looking at a future date on the calendar and thinking about how I just need to make it to that future date and then I can relax, instead of enjoying what’s actually happening. This morning, I realized I’m doing that now — looking ahead to sometime in September. So I’m trying to figure out what I can cut out or simplify or say no to. (I say that while being fully aware I’m not very good at saying no to things.)

- Even though I know the weeks ahead are going to be challenging, I can still say with ease and enthusiasm: I can’t wait to get home! Coming home is just the best. It feels so good. My own bed. My own dishes. My own desk. I’m really looking forward to getting on a good fall schedule. I really do enjoy back-to-school season. It’s such a great time for making a fresh start.

I think that’s it for now. Please feel free to respond to anything here, or bring up your own topic. I always love hearing what’s on your minds!

P.S. — I post my random thoughts each month. You can find them all here.


By Gabrielle.

I love it when favorite guests from my Living With Kids tours come back for a revisit. Even better? When their stories take on a happily-ever-after element and we can all cheer them on while we peek in on their new home and their new life that’s changed for the beautiful in so many different ways. Even better than that? When they’re excited to share it all with the rest of us. It’s nice when that happens.

This is one of those stories. I’m so happy to welcome back Jen and the newest additions to her life. You’re going to enjoy this one. Promise.

I’m Jen CK Jacobs (perhaps better known by my old name, Jen Altman). I’m a mother to six beautiful children — my own three daughters, Adie (12), Aela (10) and Ari (9) — and my three step-children, Charlotte (11), Barrett (8) and Genevieve (5). My husband and I are truly outnumbered! We are a house divided by fire and water — three fire signs, three water signs — all female; and our boys make up the air that fuels us…

I started blogging about eight years ago. Both Nectar & Light (a predominately Polaroid blog) and Nectar (a lifestyle and cooking blog) earned a fair readership in their day…but life turned upside down and maintaining a blog became a bit cumbersome. My ex-husband and I separated in the summer of 2014, and my father died unexpectedly shortly there after.

Still reeling from an impending divorce — I truly — for the first time in my life, allowed myself to fall apart when my dad died. He was the greatest man I knew. His shared love story with my mother is what everyone wishes upon the stars at night to experience; his quiet strength, unconditional love and the core of his character helped shape the woman I’m still in process of becoming. The loss was so great that the gaping wound in my chest will likely never heal. It becomes a little easier to live with as the days pass, but a photograph, a scent, a song can send a gust of cold air through that space and it feels as if we lost him yesterday.

My focus became my mother and my family. My ex-husband and I made the life-altering decision to continue to work on our relationship outside of our marriage and we now have more love, patience, more gratitude and understanding for each other than we ever did when we were married. Healing was complex as it was intertwined with multiple layers of grieving and watching my mother try to function without the other half of her soul.

So much dreaminess! I can’t wait to show you!


A Few Things

August 12, 2016

round hay bale normandy

By Gabrielle. Photo by Ben Blair.

Hello, Friends. How are you? Did you have a good week? Did you see any meteors last night? We went out at 11:00 PM for about an hour, and then again at about 1:30 AM. The viewing was much better during the second shift. But all of it was super cool! At least two of our kids are planning to sleep outside tonight to see more of the show.

How about you? Any fun plans for the weekend? Has school already started where you are? Or are you still soaking up the last weeks of summer? We’re still in summer mode — one week left in France!

I’m off to take advantage of every last minute of being here, but before I go, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share:

- The problem with female protagonists.

- Super interesting article about one design style spreading across the world.  Thanks, Laura.

- 19th century French postcards that predicted the future.

- “[W]hite children with appendicitis were almost three times as likely as black children to receive opioids in the emergency room.” Racism is alive and well. (NYT)

- Related: It’s hard to get therapy unless you’re white.

- I’m participating in Blogust this month — every comment, like, or share helps provide a vaccine!

- I had no idea Frank Lloyd Wright designed pre-fabricated houses.

- Wow. A few years ago, our representatives worked with people across the aisle far more than they do today. My brother watched this and said, “It looks like osmosis.”

- It’s so easy to overlook this stuff. But gosh is it annoying.

- That awful/weird sound you hear when someone cracks a window in the car? It’s not just you!

- Women get it done. Female chief in Malawi breaks up 850 child marriages and sends girls back to school.

- This internship program only hires women over 40.

I hope you have a fabulous weekend. I’ll meet you back here on Monday. I miss you already.



A meteor streaks past stars in the night sky over Stonehenge in Salisbury Plain

By Gabrielle. Image via Reuters by Kieran Doherty.

Have you heard about the Perseid Meteor Shower? Tonight, as many as 200 meteors per hour could be visible from Earth!! It should be on display for the new few nights, but tonight after midnight is likely to be the best viewing.

“It scares you to the bone when you see it coming across,” Jackie Faherty, an astronomer from the American Museum of Natural History, told the New York Times. “If you get just one, it will be embedded in your vision for all time. I don’t think you forget things like this.”

At our house, Olive (our studier of deep space and black holes) has taken the lead on following news about the meteor shower. She’s over-the-moon that we happen to be staying in the countryside during the shower, where light pollution isn’t a problem. In fact, since we have such a good viewing spot, we’ve invited friends for a (late-night) star party this evening. Probably more of a gathering than a full on party, but should be fun whatever it ends up being. (What shall we serve for treats? Starbursts? Mars Bars? Hah!)

What about you? Will you be watching tonight or this weekend? Will your kids stay up for it? What are the night skies like where you live? As a child, my favorite spot to view the stars was at Lake Powell, sleeping on top of my neighbor Kjersten’s houseboat. No artificial light anywhere. The stars were always insanely bright! But in Oakland, to study the night skies, we head to Chabot Space and Science Center to use their giant telescopes. Can you see the stars in your neighborhood?

P.S. — This article mentions NASA has a livestream, if you’re in a place that’s not good for stargazing.


State Abbreviations

August 11, 2016


By Gabrielle. Scratch-off Watercolor Map by Kristin Douglas.

Oh my gosh, you guys. This stand-up set by Gary Gulman on Conan came my way today and it has me laughing so hard. Have you seen it? So smart and funny! Worth a few minutes, for sure. Especially if your Thursday is kind of dragging (mine totally is).

I haven’t seen clips of a Gary Gulman performance in ages, but back in our New York days, we once bought tickets to see him live at Caroline’s. He’s fantastic. I think we must have been going through a live comedy phase at the time because we also went to live performances by Demetri Martin, and Dane Cook. Bummer for me, I haven’t been to a comedy show since then, but Ben Blair and Ralph saw Brian Reagan when we lived in Colorado.

How about you? Have you ever gone to a live stand-up comedy show? Did you like it? If you could get tickets for any comedian’s show, who would be at the top of your list? I would love to see Amy Schumer and Jim Gaffigan. Last question: As far as comedy goes, would you prefer to see a stand-up show or an improv show?

P.S. — By the way, there’s one swear in the video.


Night Games

August 10, 2016

Night Games Blairs France

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

It stays very light here in France until about 10:30 at night. And it just so happens that the yard of this rental house has a lot of great play space — a big lawn in front, and a big lawn in back. Which means that on many of these gorgeous summer evenings, you’ll find us playing Night Games. Sometimes the neighbors join us. Sometimes we invite friends over. Sometimes it’s just the 8 of us. Last night, we were a group of 16, speaking a mix of English, French, and Dutch!

Did you ever play Night Games as a kid? There was Kick-the-Can with Deanna Christian and all of our siblings — I liked hiding in the tree if I could. I remember playing Boston on Wednesday nights after cub scouts finished up at the church — though the boys didn’t always let me join in. And of course, Capture the Flag is a staple for all ages.

Some of the games seem to exist everywhere we live. What was called Boston in my childhood town, was called Pomp for Ben Blair, and has been introduced to our kids as British Bulldog. And it’s called Épervier in France. But other games seem particular to kids of the 80′s — especially Kick-the-Can. It always has to be explained. : )

June introduced us to Dragon Tag, and sometimes we add that to the evening games. Maude introduced us to the Hand Game (sort of a clapping pattern game), which you can do sitting down and makes for a good rest if people are worn out from British Bulldog. As a kid, Night Games were an after-dark summer activity. But here, we end up playing them in the light.

Just writing the words Night Games is bringing on the nostalgia! Any one else? Were your summer evenings similar as a kid? If yes, what were the names of the games that you played? And have your kids had a chance to learn? Is there a city version? Blocking off the street and playing games there?


By Gabrielle. Family photos by Tiffany Kokal and house photos by Lisa Kellenberger.

We first met Tara two years ago when she talked about balancing her travel company, Knowmad Adventures, with her new baby, and mostly the idea that travel — and babies — can make us better people. Back then, little Trey helped Tara and her husband with their work-life balance: “We had a real problem letting Knowmad seep into every aspect of our lives. I actually had to make a rule once — no business in bed — so we wouldn’t talk about it until the wee hours of the night. I really wanted to be present for Trey when I was with him, every moment of every day.”

Trey is still a fabulous influence on the family’s company and daily life, I’m pleased to report! Come see. Welcome back, Tara.

Our family started one snowy night in 2004 when Jordan kissed me after my parents’ annual Christmas party. Jordan and I, now coming up on seven years of marriage, actually knew each other from growing up. Orono, Minnesota is a small, lakeside town — one of the last stops from Minneapolis before you’re in farmland. Everyone knows everyone there and Jordan and I actually went to the same preschool, then flirted with each other through high school, and then went separate ways for college.

He was drawn to the mountains in Colorado and I went East for the big cities. It wasn’t until my last year of university that we reconnected at home and began our adventure together as a family.

Fast forward and the Harvey family has added some members: two-and-half-year old Trey, rescue-dog Luna, and our kitty Izzy who we lost last year and miss dearly — she’ll always be a part of our clan. I write about when Trey first became a part of our family, my pregnancy and babyhood, in the post Growing A Family: Trading Adventures.

Best green ever? Trey’s bedroom couch. Come see.



By Gabrielle. Photo of 41-year-old Olympic gymnast, Oksana Chusovitina.

I’m thinking of the Olympics today. Have you been watching? It’s fun and funny to watch it from France because it’s a whole different perspective — obviously the coverage is focused on the French athletes, and I’m getting to see events that I didn’t even know were part of the Olympics (hello, handball!).

Watching the games has reminded me of a topic that’s crossed my mind over the last year. I’ve been thinking about the benefits and disadvantages of being really focused and really good at one thing, versus being okay/fine/good at lots of things. I know there are some people who figure out a specific passion at a very early age. And of course there are parents who pick an activity for their young child, and the child ends up being amazing at it.

I guess I wonder how often it’s the first case (the child choosing), and how often it’s the second case (the parent choosing). I’m thinking of kids who grow up as almost full-time athletes or musicians or actors, with parents who started them on that road as babies or toddlers. Do the kids only love it because it’s all they’ve ever known? Would those kids have found the same passion on their own later in life (like as teens)? And would it be too late to really become amazing at it?

It seems like one of those tricky things, where windows of opportunity close to our kids before we even know the windows exist. If your 15-year-olds are watching the Olympics and wishing they were on the gymnastics team, even if they are willing to work like crazy, they’ve pretty much missed the window to participate in gymnastics at an Olympic level. (I realize there are exceptions, have you been following the 41-year-old?)

So as parents, if we want to give our kids a better chance at being world-class at something, do we try and guess what they might excel at, and then focus on that thing from the time they can walk and talk?

At our house, we’ve definitely done the try-it-all thinking. For example, music lessons. Our kids have taken, and continue to take, a whole bunch of lessons throughout their lives. So far, we’ve done cello, violin, piano, trombone, clarinet, trumpet, guitar, voice and ukulele. Four have been in the school band. Three have been in the school choir. They all love to play, and some even love to compose. Family jam sessions are not unusual. But I don’t think any of them think of themselves mainly as a musician. Should we have chosen one instrument for each of them at an early age and required them to focus on that one option until they were proficient? Should we be pushing them toward a career in music? (I’m not feeling regret or guilt here, just curious.)

I don’t have an answer to the question I’m asking. It’s just something I think about. And I hope I’m seeing the tradeoffs clearly. If my child focused on one activity 25+ hours per week, and they were really good at it, that seems like it would be a really positive experience. But, they may be missing out on other opportunities, or even feeling like they didn’t get a childhood. On the other hand, if my child tries a whole bunch of activities, and never really focuses, they may miss the chance to be really extraordinary at something, and they may end up feeling like they’re only mediocre at pretty much everything.

What’s your take? Do you ever think about this? Do you come to different conclusions? I’d love to hear! And do any of you have kids that consistently spend 25+ hours per week on a certain activity/sport? Or maybe you did as a kids? What is that like?

P.S. — I know some of my friends have lost interest in watching the Olympics — they feel like the games end up being too much of a burden on the host city and its citizens. I see their point, and definitely wonder about the requirements for new stadiums and venues that I fear won’t get much use after the games. Have your opinions on the Olympics changed?


A Few Things

August 5, 2016

sunset swimming sanary sur mer

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

We drove home from the French Riviera on Tuesday, arriving that evening, and it’s been delightful to be back. We love every place we’ve ever visited in France (and I’ll write up notes about our trip south next week), but Normandy continues to be our favorite. We just feel at home here. Our time in France is rushing by, and we’ve started making a list of everything we still need/want to do before we go — including our back-to-school dates. Since we’ll arrive back in the U.S. right before school starts, we’ll need to do much of our back-to-school prep here. Should be fun!

How about you? What’s on your mind now that August is upon us?

I’m still working on unpacking and laundry from our trip, and I better get back to it, but before I go, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share:

- Who’s getting excited about the Olympics? Love this hopeful read about Refugee Olympians.

- Being Black at School. “I witnessed first hand how the system helped white students thrive while continuing to marginalize Black students.”

- As we’ve suspected all along, women’s clothing sizes are random numbers.

- On the guilt that comes when your child is sick. Beautiful essay.

- Transforming plastic waste into cinderblocks for building.

- It’s not just more diverse books we need, it’s more books like The Snowy Day.

- Things People With Down’s Syndrome Are Tired Of Hearing.

- Thanks grief, for making depression look like the buzzing little bully it always was. Amazing words from Patton Oswalt, who lost his wife 102 days ago.

- What are the odds we’re living in a computer simulation? (I love futurist topics!)

- The human toll of terror attacks. (NYT)

Farming robot! For your own backyard.

I hope you have a really lovely weekend. I’ll meet you back here on Monday. I miss you already.



By Gabrielle. Dreamy roller coaster print via The Gingham Owl.

This Growing A Family story reads like a roller coaster ride. There are many highs that made my stomach leap and a few lows I could feel in the back of my throat, and I just couldn’t seem to catch my breath throughout. I’m hoping beyond all hopes for an easy, happy finish, with arms raised and a triumphant “We did it.”

Welcome, Holly.

Hang on. Bumpy ride ahead.



By Gabrielle. Image is a still from the movie.

I’ve got a question for you. On our drive to the South of France, the topic of Toy Story came up and I asked my kids, “Do you ever remember playing with your toys the way Andy in Toy Story does?”

It occurred to me that though they have all done lots of pretend play over the years, I’ve never seen them do anything even close to how Andy played with his toys — setting up a scenario and sort of acting it out. And as a kid myself, I don’t remember playing that way either.

That made me me wonder. Do other kids play like Andy does? Or was it just good imagination on the part of the screenwriters? I don’t mind at all if it was just made up for the benefit of the script, but I’m curious to know if it’s common and I just haven’t seen it in person.

I know that different kids use different play-styles, and I know there are certain toys that my kids never really got into, even though they were around — like racetracks and matchbox cars. I also have a distinct memory from my niece Edie’s second birthday. She received a doll and a little doll feeding set with a bib, and bottle and binkie. She was over the moon! She immediately started parenting the heck out of that doll — cradling it, feeding it, diapering it. It was the cutest thing! Ben Blair and I laughed that none of our 4 daughters, or 2 sons, ever played pretend parenting. And there were (and still are) lots of dolls around. As far as dolls go, mostly my kids like to dress them up and design outfits for them. Hah!

How about you? How did you play as a child? If you have kids (or grandkids), do they play the same or differently than you did? Any Toy Story types out there? Anyone reading that has never seen Toy Story and have no idea what I’m talking about? I’d love to hear!


By Gabrielle. House photos by Katie Jenkins, and barn shot by Libby Newell.

Brianna has a barn and a to-die-over pantry and land and extra rooms and lots of old stuff and a magazine she writes from said barn, but what’s most interesting to me about her is how she is using all her space.

Hospitality. Welcoming guests into her life and almost forcing herself to do so, sometimes, because it involves so much more than simply inviting people over, right? No, hospitality is not easy. But, oh! The reward. I read once (probably on Pinterest!) that the word hospitality comes from two Greek words; one means love and the second means strangers. So sweet when it’s put like that.

Brianna, I’m happy to offer you some hospitality here today! Welcome to Design Mom. I can’t wait to share you with my readers.

Hello! I’m Brianna Van Dyke, and I live with my husband Jonathan in Fort Collins, Colorado, with our two kids Finnley (ten) and IlaJane (seven) and our three dogs. I’m a writer and editor and an introvert. I love words and seeking beauty and good conversation, and I’m passionate and driven and I have a perfectionist streak that sometimes gets the best of me. My kids and my husband teach me so much about extending grace to myself and to the people I love.

We live in Fort Collins, which is about an hour north of Denver. It’s known for all its breweries and is often called the Napa Valley of beer. There are also lots of great outdoor spaces to enjoy. One of our favorite family activities is rafting on the Cache La Poudre river and barbecuing along the river.

You must see the pantry. And the barn. And everything!



By Gabrielle.

The other day, my friend Caroline pointed out the red A attached to the back of her car window. No it’s not a scarlet letter, it’s to indicate to other cars that there is an Adolecscent driver (her daughter) behind the wheel. It’s actually a law here in France. I don’t know the details — like how long it must remain in the window, and what ages are considered adolescent — but I think it’s smart. An easy heads up that the car in front of you has a relatively new driver, so you can cut them some slack (and maybe give them a wider than normal space on the road).

Teens in France can’t get their driver’s license until age 18. I was thinking about that, and then I saw this article from the Washington Post about how the car culture in America is dying.

I both related to the article, and felt a wave of nostalgia about the topic. I related to it, because while I was super excited to get my license, and took my driving test on my 16th birthday, my two oldest kids weren’t in a big hurry to get theirs at all — Maude was almost 17, and Ralph just got his before we left to France, at 18 and a half. But more than that, neither of them seems to enjoy driving that much — it seems more of a task for them than a pleasure (which I realize could partly be California traffic).

Additionally, I don’t know that they feel the same freedom that driving gave me as a teen. My car literally connected me to my friends and their homes after school and on the weekends. But with cell phones, my kids are connected to their friends all the time, with or without a car. Anything they need or want can be delivered to their door easily. For them, a car, and driving, is optional. In fact, I feel like I know lots of 16-and-older kids in Oakland that don’t have a license. It’s a costly, time-intensive thing to get. And then there’s the cost of owning a car. It’s easy to skip it and use buses, trains, and ubers instead — or just bum a ride from a friend.

It’s taken me awhile to realize that driving for my kids is simply going to be a different thing than it has been for me. And my younger kids may never learn to drive at all. Learning to drive and owning a car may end up becoming a hobby instead of an almost universal American need.

That’s where the wave of nostalgia comes in. I have lots of happy memories around cars and driving. My dad was always buying and selling cars, a wide range of them, and I formed opinions about which ones I liked best from an early age. There are certain vintage models that make my heart sing! And I can list you the favorite cars I’ve owned, like the ’83 red Landcruiser and the vintage 4L Renault. Of course, I’m not the only one. Sometimes it seems like growing up in America includes having opinions about cars and connecting them to your identity. My experience is not unusual.

But times are changing. In cities, programs that offer shared “ownership” of cars are taking hold. Things like Car2Go and Zipcars. The whole community shares them, there is always one available and nearby, and you just drive them as needed. That appeals to me too. The idea of not needing to personally own and care for a car, but having one available, sounds really good.

Even with six kids, we’ve been a one car family for almost our entire marriage. It’s easy for us because we work at home. But with more drivers in the house, we’re thinking about adding a second car this fall. Though we’re not totally convinced. When we do the math, and add up insurance, car payment, fuel and maintenance, setting aside a budget for public transit + uber/lyft would cost about as much and take up less time and thought.

All this makes me curious. Do you have your driver’s license? If you have kids 16 or older, do they? Do you feel attitudes about driving are changing for teens? Are cars important to you personally? Do you connect them with your identity? Like, are there certain cars you would never drive or own because they don’t fit your image? Or are you A-OK with any vehicle as long as it gets you from point A to point B in comfort and on time? And beyond the car, what about driving itself? If you had access to a self-driving car would you be happy to give up driving? Or do you love the act of driving?

P.S. — I shared this article on Friday, but in case you missed it, it relates to this topic. It’s a vision of what a city might look like when the average citizen doesn’t need to own a car, and all cars are self-driving.

Related Posts with Thumbnails